What We Are Reading Today: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Updated 20 October 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Author: Thomas Chatterton Williams

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book Self-Portrait in Black and White is “more rigorous than mournful, an account of solutions more than of problems, marked by self-deprecating humor and acute sensitivity,” said Andrew Solomon in a review for The New York Times.  
Solomon added: “Williams, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, is well educated, intellectually sophisticated and prosperous, and he tries to limn the complex relationship between race and class, to figure out where racism is classism and where classism is racism, an almost Escher-like maze as snobbery casts a thin veil over racial hatred and vice versa.”
While Self-Portrait in Black and White “begins with assertions of Williams’ blackness, it evolves into a rich set of questions occasioned
by the birth of his first child,” said Solomon.
The critic said Williams’ final chapter, Self-Portrait of an Ex-Black Man, “explores his rejection of an identity that he has seldom sought but frequently embraced.”


What We Are Reading Today: Taming the Unknown

Updated 13 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Taming the Unknown

Edited by Victor J.Katz and Karen Hunger Parshall

What is algebra? For some, it is an abstract language of x’s and y’s. For mathematics majors and professional mathematicians, it is a world of axiomatically defined constructs like groups, rings, and fields.

Taming the Unknown considers how these two seemingly different types of algebra evolved and how they relate. Victor Katz and Karen Parshall explore the history of algebra, from its roots in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, China, and India, through its development in the medieval Islamic world and medieval and early modern Europe, to its modern form in the early 20th century.

Defining algebra originally as a collection of techniques for determining unknowns, the authors trace the development of these techniques from geometric beginnings in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and classical Greece.

They show how similar problems were tackled in Alexandrian Greece, in China, and in India, then look at how medieval Islamic scholars shifted to an algorithmic stage, which was further developed by medieval and early modern European mathematicians.

With the introduction of a flexible and operative symbolism in the 16th and 17th centuries, algebra entered into a dynamic period characterized by the analytic geometry that could evaluate curves represented by equations in two variables, thereby solving problems in the physics of motion.

This new symbolism freed mathematicians to study equations of degrees higher than two and three, ultimately leading to the present abstract era.